(adapted from a guest post originally written for The Magic of Wor(l)ds blog on my book tour February 2022)
A Shape on the Air (#1 Dr DuLac series of early medieval time-slip mystery romances) is really two stories that mirror and intertwine: Dr Viv in the present and Lady Vivianne in 499AD, both with romance to find and a mystery to solve. I can do present day … but 499AD? How did people dress in the 5th century? What did they eat? What were their houses like? How did they live? One of the best things about writing novels set in a particular historical period is the research. I love it!
OK, a novel is fiction, but readers still want to see it as an authority. When I read a novel myself I want to feel I’m learning something correct and authentic, not something wrong or misleading.
It’s the same if you’re writing about a particular location, or, as in A Shape on the Air, a particular concept – here, it’s the idea of time-slip, and whether it could actually happen – and as an author, making the story believable. Could it possibly happen? And how?
For A Shape on the Air, I had a plot involving Dr Viv DuLac slipping back in time to resolve a mystery, so I needed to update my research on the early medieval period and also on concepts of time. Both of these are areas I love to read about, so it was no hardship.
I’d studied medieval language, literature and history at university for my first degree and have always been fascinated by what we used to call the ‘Dark Ages’ (after the Roman rule ended and the early Anglo-Saxon settlements began). It got its nick-name from the lack (darkness) of evidence in archaeology and documents. So, there wasn’t very much researched and written about this period, … until now!
It’s exciting to see that archaeology is now finding many clues as to everyday domestic life in the 5th/6th/7th centuries AD.
And discovering that life was much richer and more ‘advanced’ than had previously been supposed. There is now a growing body of archaeological, geophysical and isotopic evidence to indicate how the people of the 5th and 6th centuries lived: feasting halls, jewellery, imported luxury goods.
Recent excavations have uncovered evidence of large feasting halls (mead halls) as a focal point of the settlements, and analyses of human bones found in the cemeteries attached to these villages have confirmed the diet, as I outlined in a previous post. Osteo-archaeology has also given us an insight into the origins of these peoples as well as where and how they lived.
In Cambridge, 2020, at the Kings College site, another 5th-6th century cemetery revealed rich jewellery including a chest brooch bearing fragments of cloak fabric showing evidence of a sophisticated weave, possibly indicating Byzantine trade, or local craftsmanship learned from elsewhere.
On Salisbury Plain a 7th century burial revealed silver coins, bronze and silver rings, amethyst beads. Gold rings, jewel-encrusted brooches, bracteates (neck pendants) and gold torcs (neck rings) have also been excavated. Another site at Sedgeford in Norfolk, produced evidence of beer-malting, hot-working fire pits and iron hooks for steeping harvested grain in hot water (to aid germination and the build-up of sugars and starches), as well as the remains of cereal grains themselves. There were even finger marks on the mud of the kilns.
So the Anglo-Saxon and early medieval periods are proving to be every bit as rich, culturally diverse and interesting in terms of everyday domestic life as later periods. It clearly wasn’t all about battles and land-grab!
For my novel series, I had to keep up to date with new discoveries and research reports, now coming thick and fast. And what a joy it was – and still is, with my continuing research as new findings arise from the ‘digs’.
However, to some extent, I also had to use my deductive powers to assess what might have been retained from the earlier Roman period, and what might be developing forward into the Anglo-Saxon period So there was a fair amount of both evidence and informed imagination at work as I wrote A Shape on the Air.
My research into time-slip was also fascinating.
I looked again at the scientific theories of quantum mechanics, which sounds a bit like something from Dr Who: the Einstein-Rosen Bridge theory, and worm-holes. Yes, really! They’re all basically scientific ideas about space-time portals through which you could slip from one layer of the universe into another, or from one historic period into another. Fascinating, especially for all those who like fantasy and the paranormal, and yet these are real scientific theories of the concept of time, albeit unlikely to be tested by experiment! Strangely enough, I seem to be hearing those theories quoted so much more these days in the media, for example the lovely Professor Brian Cox. So maybe something out there is catching on!
Time-slip sounds insane, and of course Viv wonders if she’s going mad when she thinks she’s had a dream but brings back a real golden key from 499 AD. And her ‘dream’ is so real she begins to wonder if she’s taken on the identity of Lady Vivianne, her counterpart in the Anglo-Saxon times. Why are their lives becoming intertwined? Why do they need to reach out to each other across the centuries? And, of course, do they both find the love they crave? Well, I’m afraid that you’ll need to read A Shape on the Air to find out …!
Available at http://myBook.to/ASOTA
My research continued for the next two novels in the Dr DuLac series: The Dragon Tree and The Rune Stone …